Showing off the best of Burnley in 1939

Massey Music Pavillion at Towneley Park
Massey Music Pavillion at Towneley Park

“As becomes a great industrial centre, Burnley makes no pretence of posing as the City Beautiful.

“Time was when it aspired to be a spa, but the peculiar humidity of the local climate and its vast mineral resources precluded its development as anything other than it is: an emporium of the weaving arts, plus coal mining and the innumerable manufacturing concerns that establish themselves in the wake of coal and iron.

Burnley town centre from years ago

Burnley town centre from years ago

“If Burnley is not wholly ornamental, certain parts of it would adorn any holiday resort, while the great public buildings of the borough are in every way worthy of the age and town they represent.”

This is the opening paragraph of a booklet “In and Around Burnley”, issued with the compliments of Massey’s Burnley Brewery Ltd in 1939. The date of its publication does not appear on the booklet but its unnamed author refers to the Bridge End Brewery as being built 189 years before. It is known the first brewery on this site, now B&M’s Burnley store, was opened in 1750, not by Massey’s who took over in 1830, but possibly by the Holgate family who, like Masseys, were one of the early pioneers of Burnley’s manufacturing industry.

In 1909, the centenary of the death of Edward Stocks Massey was marked by an exhibition, hosted by the Towneley Hall Society, at Towneley Hall. This ran from November, 2009, to the end of January, 2010, and, as part of the opening event, I was asked if I would give a Centenary Lecture on the history of the Massey family and their brewery.

I conducted a little research and ended up with a history of brewing in Burnley which I will use in a forthcoming book. However, when I came to consult “In and Around Burnley” and, reading it for the first time, I was very much taken by the publication. It contains a short, and incomplete, history of the brewery; makes a number of comments about the town; introduces its pubs in Burnley, and elsewhere, and published a list of all its premises as they were just before the Second World War.

An unusual view of Towneley Hall

An unusual view of Towneley Hall

The booklet also refers to Edward Stocks Massey and his famous bequest which came into effect on the death of his widow in October, 1921. At that time, Burnley Corporation became entitled, under the terms of Mr Stocks Massey’s Will, to the sum of £103,000 to use for the benefit of the people of Burnley. These were defined as education, the advancement of science, learning, music or other arts.

To this day, Burnley Council, through trustees, administers the bequest which has grown considerably over the years. In the year ending 31st March, 1939, for example, £1,995 was allocated for education; £1,225 for music and £760 for the advancement of art.

These will seem to be relatively small sums to us but they were anything but in 1939. Over the years, the Massey Bequest has granted scholarships to numerous people undertaking higher education courses at institutions throughout the country. It has also supported the construction of the Massey Art Gallery at Towneley Hall, the purchase of many of the paintings there, the construction of the Massey Music Pavilion, also at Towneley, and the Massey Music Library at Burnley’s Central Library.

All this, and much more, is given in the booklet which is illustrated by three magnificent photos of Burnley as it was in 1939. These are reproduced for you today and the choice of these images conforms to the assertion that “certain parts of it (Burnley) would adorn any holiday resort”.

Of course this raises the question, what images of Burnley are representative of the town as it is now? We have some idea of this as a consequence of the accumulated images published on the “Readers’ View” letter pages of the Burnley Express, but I would be interested to know what images you feel represent Burnley today.

When “In and Around Burnley” was produced 75 years ago I would happily have gone with two of the images chosen for the booklet. The photog of the town centre, by the publishers of the booklet and taken from the upper floors of the then newly opened Burton’s shop at the bottom of Manchester Road, is one that stands out as “being” Burnley in 1939. That of Towneley Hall is by a local photographer, Richard Broughton, originally a cotton weaver, who produced many splendid postcard images not only of Burnley but also of parts of what is now Cumbria and North Yorkshire.

The Briercliffe Society used to have quite a few of these postcards which, a number of years ago, were sold to a collector, the late Peter Sewell. He wrote an article for “Retrospect; the Journal of Burnley and District Historical Society” (Volume 24, 2006). This image is typical of Broughton’s work, showing the hall from an angle that is not commonly used. It appears to be an early photo taken of the time just after Burnley Council made its first Towneley purchase. That was in 1902 and we know Richard Broughton was in business as a photographer from at least that year, when he lived, and had a studio, in Woodbine Road. Later, he moved to 352 Padiham Road where he was living and working in 1911.

The choice of the third picture, of the Massey Music Pavilion, is understandable in a booklet about Massey’s Brewery and its houses. When opened in June 1929, the pavilion was described as “one of the finest and most up to date structures (of its kind) in the country”. A mere glance at the image confirms that, though better still are the photos which show huge crowds of people occupying the seats and benches and enjoying a performance.

The pavilion was designed by the borough engineer, Arthur Race, and was planned to accommodate 3,500 people seated on chairs but the initial capacity was only 2,000, seated, with a further 1,000 standing at the back.

A few weeks ago, I was in Towneley Park, with my brother and sister and, after a really good lunch at the little bistro opposite the Causeway End entrance to the park, we set off to look at the exhibition on the 100th anniversary of Burnley’s one and only FA Cup win. On the way we found the remains of the Ice House but the site of the pavilion eluded us and there was no mention of it on the maps we consulted at the hall.

The pavilion was demolished in 1968 after a fire. The land upon which it stood was allowed to return to its natural woodland state, and most of the pavilion was removed, but what better way would there have been in 1939 for Massey’s to demonstrate their commitment to Burnley? That said, I am not so sure the pavilion would have been among my choices had I been responsible for the selection of photos representative of Burnley.

However, the St James’s Street image is such a picture. When it was taken it was only a handful of years since the tram centre had closed and the remains of the alighting platform can still be seen in the middle of the image. Burnley, Colne and Nelson Joint Transport had been in existence for about six years and their splendid buses dominate the image.

Almost all of the property on the right of the photo survives but we have lost almost everything on the left. This latter property has been replaced with sub-standard architecture which does little for Burnley - the fine banks, shops and offices consigned to history.

Anyone can see why a local firm, in this case Massey’s, would have been proud to include such an image in their booklet which was distributed free to business connections and the firm’s pubs. The photo was taken by the firm which published the booklet for Massey’s, Ed. J. Burrow and Co. Ltd, of Cheltenham which was, of course, a spa town – the kind of place Burnley might have become if it had not possessed the “vast mineral resources” referred to in the introduction.

In future weeks I am going to commence a series on the history of textiles in Burnley and would welcome your memories of working on Burnley’s mills if you care to share them.